People might not realize it, but Ravens safety Geno Stone “has some bunnies,” Chris Hewitt said.

But the team didn’t take a chance on Stone because of his speed or his vertical leap, the Ravens’ pass game coordinator and secondary coach said Tuesday. It drafted him for his instincts, Hewitt explained.

Three years after the Ravens used pick No. 219 on a safety who was neither highly recruited in high school nor highly ranked before the draft, they’ve seen their investment returned and then some.

The former seventh-round pick has the second-most interceptions (six) in the league, trailing 2022 fifth-round pick DaRon Bland (eight) and leading 2021 third-round pick Paulson Adebo, 2018 second-round pick Jessie Bates, 2022 second-round pick Cam Taylor-Britt and 2018 fourth-round pick Jordan Whitehead, who all have four.

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Before this year, Stone had only one interception across two seasons. However, Hewitt thought his potential was always clear.

“Geno has always been an instinctive player, a high-IQ football player,” Hewitt said. “It’s all about the opportunity, and all the opportunities that he’s had even last year and even as a rookie, every time he’s come in, he’s played well.”

How has Stone made six interceptions this season? There’s a host of reasons. The Baltimore Banner had Stone take us through each interception to talk about what he saw. Then The Banner talked to his teammates and coaches to figure out what has made everything click for him.

Week 2 vs. Bengals

Stone: “This one, I’m really the free player on this one, on the back side [helping cornerback Brandon Stephens with Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase]. But I really got three over [whichever receiver on the three-receiver side of the formation ends up in the middle of the field]. So if I have any three vertical [route] or whatever, I’m really helping back side and taking [Chase] off the X and then really reading the quarterback [Joe Burrow] after that. So I just really made a good play, just went over, saw [Burrow] went over the ’backer [inside linebacker Roquan Smith]. And then kind of just went and got the ball.”

What was going through your mind since it was your first of the season?

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Stone: “I was happy because I haven’t had one in two years, so just really — I mean, at the same time, it was a close game, so I was really just trying to think next play. But after the game I was just happy because that’s my first one I’d got since two years, really — my first one, like, real one, in two years.”

CINCINNATI, OHIO - SEPTEMBER 17: Geno Stone #26 of the Baltimore Ravens intercepts a pass intended for Tee Higgins #5 of the Cincinnati Bengals during the third quarter at Paycor Stadium on September 17, 2023 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Stone intercepts a pass intended for the Bengals' Tee Higgins near the end zone. (Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

Week 4 vs. Browns

Stone: “This one was an easy ball. It was like a foul ball. Me just playing the post [as a single-high safety] and reading the quarterback [Dorian Thompson-Robinson]. And you know he kind of overthrew it. This one I was thinking, ‘Get more yards. Don’t run out of bounds.’ I was thinking, ‘Don’t run out of bounds on that one,’ because I got a lot of crap for the first one. So, yeah, that’s why I was trying to keep going.”

How much did your baseball translate?

Stone: “Yeah, no, this one was just like playing catch in the backfield, and he just threw the ball to me.”

Week 6 vs. Titans

Stone: “I was in the post and kind of saw Marlon [Humphrey] get beat a little bit. I saw he’s kind of behind the receiver. When I saw the guy [at the] top of the route, started seeing [Ryan] Tannehill get ready to throw the ball, so kind of just went, broke on the ball that way, made a good play, jumped in front of the ball.”

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Week 7 vs. Lions

Stone: “This is another one. It was just kind of fourth down. I knew [Jared Goff] was kinda just gonna throw it up. Yeah, it was probably another one where he just threw it up and just me being in the right spot, right time.”

Week 8 vs. Cardinals

Stone: “All right. Oh, this one. This one. So this one, we checked to a certain call. We were in something else, checked to something else. And kind of wasn’t supposed to be there the way that — I wasn’t supposed to be there, but it was really Kyle [Hamilton] that put me in that position. You know, Ro [Smith] was saying something else, Kyle was saying something else. ... So I just want to make sure the secondary’s on the same page, and we play the same cover, so it didn’t look messed up. So I kind of went down, became hook player [responsible for a shallow zone in the middle of the field]. And that one, I really just saw the over [route] and started running with it. And I saw [quarterback Joshua Dobbs] throw the ball. And I guess I jumped in front of B-Steve [Stephens]. So he was kind of mad, but it is what it is.”

Do you typically go with what the secondary is telling you?

Stone: “The secondary, we got to kind of play on the string a little more. And that situation, where we were in, you know, Ro kind of would have the same job, no matter what. And, you know, the secondary, we all got to be on the same page because, one, we need either a post player or a half player [a defensive back in zone coverage covering the deep half of the field], and that’s kind of what it was. So I just made sure I was going with my secondaries because, you know, we’re the last defense. So, I mean, if there were a mess-up, it’s going to be either a big play or a touchdown.”

As for what Hamilton was seeing?

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Hamilton: “It was a check being made on the field, and there was some disagreement on the field, and I told him — everybody was in disagreement. I was like, ‘No, Geno, you go over there.’ And, luckily, he got the pick from doing that. But, I mean, he still got up and made the play, so props to him.”

Did the result make you feel justified in your call?

Hamilton: “Yeah, I mean, I’m glad we were in it because it got him a pick. But, I mean, he still pushed under the sail route, picked it off. It was a good play.”

Baltimore Ravens safety Geno Stone (26) catches an interception during the second quarter against the Seattle Seahawks at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday, Nov. 5, 2023.
Stone makes a leaping grab of a pass intended for Tyler Lockett of the Seahawks. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

Week 9 vs. Seahawks

Stone: “You know, we’re showing kind of 0 look [Cover 0] and going back to the half. And this one, I’m just me, playing the half. And I think [quarterback Geno Smith] saw B-Steve jump off, and he thought he was open. And when he threw it up in the air, you know, me just going up and making a play again.”

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Behind the scenes

All that matters is that Stone executes when the ball comes his way. But there were a number of things that happened before he stepped on the field that led to his success.

Stone has had a huge increase in responsibilities with major injuries to the secondary. Safeties Marcus Williams and Daryl Worley and cornerbacks Humphrey, Jalyn Armour-Davis and Kevon Seymour have all been hurt. But simply having an opportunity isn’t enough to improve your performance, said Stephens, who has also had a breakout season.

“You got to earn your keep,” Stephens said. “Just because guys go down, and you get your opportunity, you got to keep that opportunity.”

Stone has done this in obvious ways, including all the interceptions, but there’s way more to his game. Stephens said Stone “overcommunicates,” which has been key in keeping the defense running smoothly, and Hamilton said he’s been very patient in letting plays evolve and seizing his opportunity. He’s grown as a leader through his play and his words.

One of the biggest reasons Stone has improved is that, three seasons in, the game has slowed down for him.

“I’m coming more into this game, being more of a pro and diagnosing things faster,” Stone said. “Knowing things before the snap and helping guys out before snap, being a leader in that back end.”

As things slow down around him, he has physically sped up, as well. Stone put extra effort into his nutrition and training and entered the season at a lower playing weight. He’s moved more freely to make the plays he’s visualizing.

The result? The most interceptions in a season by a Raven since Eric Weddle had six in 2017. After picking off Smith, Stone was the league’s interceptions leader for a month until Bland made his seventh Nov. 23. Stone joked he could have had one more, but he “lent” Hamilton his hands and forgot to get them back. He dropped one on the final play before halftime against the Cleveland Browns because he and Hamilton collided.

Stone has five games left. He has more than surpassed his preseason goals, so he’s trying not to put a number on how many interceptions he could end up with, especially because he said three or four were because he was just in the right place at the right time. But Hamilton said he’s being humble.

“I’ve never heard of anybody getting six just wild picks,” Hamilton said. “But I mean, yeah, he’s got to be in the right place at the right time and put himself in those positions. I mean, it’s not just all luck.”

As defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald says: “The ball finds energy.”

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